Many of you have joined in the fun since I first published romantic comedies in 2005. As much as I loved my heroines Tamara and Isa, I knew there was something extra special about Dori Orihuela and her crazy family when I wrote the novella, “Till Death Do Us Part,” which was published in the chica lit anthology, Names I Call My Sister. Many of you felt the same way! At book signings or through emails, you asked what happened to them? Where did they go?
I wanted to know, too. I had Dori buy a crumbling Edwardian mansion that happened to have a dead guy wandering around. Initially this was supposed to be a chick lit paranormal. But it turned into the book I’d always wanted to write but was too afraid to attempt. I went for it and Lost in the Light introduced Dori to wider audience of readers and podcast listeners who enjoy eerie, gothic mysteries with ghosts and psychics and of course, the crazy family! When I approached the end of writing Lost in the Light, I couldn’t let these characters go. I then wrote the sexier novella, “Girl in the Mist” and then the second novel, Lost in Whispers, which you’ll be the very first to preview in this collection!
As I complete Lost in Whispers, I’m already planning the next Dori adventure and a new series of romantic paranormal suspense. My job is too much fun and I often marvel that I’m living the dream!
If you’re new to the Dori O. Paranormal Mystery series, welcome and I hope you enjoy discovering these stories and characters. If you’re dying for the next book, I’m working as fast as I can to get Lost in Whispers in your hands in 2017.
Your patience has not gone unnoticed!
Thank you so much for joining me on this amazing journey. If I made a list of things I’m grateful for, you my friend, would make it a very long list!
Names I Call My Sister: Till Death Do Us Part
Lost in the Light
Girl in the Mist
Lost in Whispers
“Till Death Do Us Part”
Names I Call My Sister
Dori Orihuela had no idea what she was doing out of bed when she turned onto the dirt driveway leading to Grammy Cena’s house.
Bordered on both sides by solid walls of nopale cactus, Dori thought once again that her sister, Sela should’ve been put in charge of Grammy Cena. Sela had always been her favorite. But no one could count on them showing up at the wedding sober, much less show up at all and so the duty fell on Dori.
Grammy Cena’s dogs, Pepe and Churro charged and snarled at Dori’s RAV-4. She stopped a few feet from the porch, cut the engine and rolled down her passenger window.
“Grammy it’s me! Don’t shoot!”
At the sound of her voice, Pepe and Churro’s snarls turned to joyous cries for attention.
“Something bad is going to happen at this wedding,” Grammy’s witchy voice declared from the sagging little house with the giant pepper tree in the back. Dori bet the tree still had the rope swing that her brother and sister would argue over. As the oldest, Dori had been the one who refereed their turns.
Grammy locked the door and then shaded her eyes with a bony hand. “Your Tío Fermin has been visiting again.”
Tío Fermin had been dead since 1986, but he “visited” Grammy in the form of a skunk when he had messages from the other side. Dori gave up her argument that Grammy’s house backed to a small canyon below the La Vista Memorial Park where there were plenty of skunks to be found.
With a sigh, Dori yanked her keys out of the ignition and realized nothing had changed in the five years she’d been gone. Pepe or Churro yelped when the car door clonked one of them in the head.
“Hey Grammy,” Dori struggled past the two dogs who circled around her legs. “You ready to go? We’re going to be late to the church.”
Grammy yelled sharply at the dogs whose tails dropped between their legs and ears pressed pathetically against their heads.
“Psh. I ain’t in no hurry to go to that wedding,” Grammy spat, scowling as Dori hurried to the porch to help her down. She twisted her arm out of Dori’s grip, determined to make her way down the stairs.
They seemed a lot more wobbly than the last time Dori had been here.
“How do I look?” Grammy asked, patting her hair.
When they thought they were giving Grammy their final good-byes last year, she had asked Dori if her mascara was smeared. To see her now, you’d never think she’d been at Death’s door.
Grammy’s wrinkled lips wore Max Factor red lipstick just as they had since the 1950’s, and her hair, which was dyed jet black once a month, had been piled into her signature bouffant. When the sun touched Grammy’s gold lame pant suit, Elvis probably looked down from heaven and shook his head at such bad taste.
“Very, uh, shiny,” Dori replied, squinting her eyes. She could only imagine what dress her sister would show up in. “Now you’re not carrying anything are you?”
Grammy remained suspiciously quiet.
“Are you?” Dori insisted in the voice she used to question suspects. “Whatever you have, you need to leave in the house.”
“I’m an old lady. What if someone tries to attack me in the parking lot? Or that hussy your brother’s marrying talks smart with me? What kind of world is this when an old woman can’t protect herself-“
“I didn’t make the law and we’re not going anywhere until you unpack.”
Grammy stopped so suddenly that Dori’s heart lurched that she’d tripped and was about to fall. “I’ll wait here all day if I have to,” Grammy pouted.
“Then you’ll have to answer to mom.”
Grammy ran her tongue over the gap where her two front teeth had been while her eyes bored into Dori’s to see if she’d back down. Dori put all her willpower into her cop face.
“No good cotton-pickin’ nosy kids,” Grammy finally muttered, thrusting her small suitcase of a purse at Dori. “Go ahead and take it. But your Tío Fermin was around this morning and I have a feeling that I need to protect all of us.”
Dori confiscated Grampy’s old billy club, a switchblade and a pearl-handled Saturday Night special. In her hands was so much felony time that she lost count.
“Wait here and I’ll put them away in the house.”
“But you said we’d be late!” Grammy shouted at Dori’s back. Still walking towards the house, Dori unloaded the gun before she got desperate and shot herself to get out of going to her brother’s wedding.
Deep in the Immaculata Church, Sela watched her brother, Robbie receive the traditional blessing from his padrino, Tío Vincent.
“God has blessed you with a virgin bride,” Tío Vince said, his voice rough with emotion as he held a tiny box of gold coins. “These coins symbolize the family’s gratitude for her virtue.”
Grammy snorted, “Virgin, my ass. Sammy has got as much reason to wear white in a church as I do.”
“Her name is Dannie,” Sela hissed back. “And if God strikes you down for blasphemy, he’ll get me for standing next to you.”
Grammy reached into her ear and turned down her hearing aid.
Tío Vince then held out a gold braided lasso. “This lasso will also bind you and Dannie together in the eyes of God, just as it did your tía and me.”
Sela watched her parents, their chests swelled with pride at their one and only son. Not only was Robbie now Dr. Robert Orihuela of Children’s Hospital, but he was also marrying a twenty-two year old virgin from an old San Diego family. She couldn’t count the number of times her mother chatted excitedly about how Dannie had been educated at Our Lady of Guadalupe and had debuted to society at the La Jolla Debutante Ball. In other words, she was bred to marry well.
Mom dabbed the corner of her eyes and dad patted Robbie’s shoulder as if he couldn’t stop himself. When Sela had walked up to her parents earlier, her flame print dress in mango and pink nearly made her mother cry tears of despair.
Sela’s glanced over at Dori, who stood on the other side of Grammy. In a tailored white pant suit with just a peek of her opalescent cami, Dori appeared crisp and capable. She had that bronzed warrior beauty. With her caramel corkscrew curls and hazel eyes, Sela looked like a fairy that had fallen out of her dew-covered bed.
Sela wondered how she was going to tell Dori that Robbie had invited Pete, his friend and the love of Dori’s life. Maybe she could talk Grammy into doing it. They’d been playing hot potato with that bombshell for weeks.
“Did I tell you about the dream I had last night?” Grammy said, her voice booming off the cool plaster walls of the dressing room.
Sela grinned and “forgot” to remind Grammy that she had lowered the volume of her hearing aids.
Grammy cleared her throat and cupped her hand to nearly shout in Sela’s ear, “I was dreaming that I was having sex with Brad Pitt and at first I was thinking it was nice, you know, but then I realized I don’t like that girly boy-“
“Mama!” dad hissed but Grammmy couldn’t hear him.
“I like , a man like your grampy who can throw down and-“
“MAMA!” dad shouted.
Grammy gave a start, her eyes wide and blinking as if she were senile. Sela repressed a grin that Grammy knew she what she had been doing all along.
“Oh, did you hear that?” Grammy asked.
Sela basked in the horror on her parents’ faces. Tío Vince froze in wiping the tears off his cheeks. He was from mom’s side of the family.
“This is the only day Brenda and I will walk of your grandchildren down the aisle,” dad said in the tone that sent a warning zipping up Sela’s spine. “We won’t have it ruined.”
Dori’s left eyebrow shot up and Grammy dismissed him with a flap of her hand. Mom rushed over to make the peace.
“Girls,” she begged Sela, not looking at Dori because she was afraid of her oldest daughter. “Meet us outside the church after the ceremony … for pictures, okay?”
“Are you sure Pammy-“
“Dannie,” everyone corrected in chorus.
“Don’t interrupt me,” Grammy spat. “I thought she’d want us in the kitchen with the rest of the Mexicans.”
Dori’s hand clamped down on Grammy’s walker.
“Let’s get some air, Grammy,” she ground between her teeth with a glare at Sela to help her or be left with their parents.
“Why?” shot out of Sela’s mouth when the sun slid over her bare shoulders. “Why are we being treated like second class citizens?”
“Sela,” Dori hissed. “Not now.”
For their precious m’ijo, her parents refinanced their house so he could go to Stanford. But they refused to let Sela attend the USC Thornton School of Music on a full scholarship because according to them – or really, dad – there was no future in music. For Robert, they refinanced their house to impress Dannie’s family; so they could pay for half of a huge society wedding and not look like a working-class family with two daughters who were known around National City as “those Wild Orihuela girls.”
“Sela! Sela, wait,” Mom called, running after them. “Honey, I need to ask you a favor.”
A fragile bridge of trust had been built between them ever since Sela learned mom had had an affair with Mr. Neal who used to live next door. Sela wanted more than anything for at least one of her parents to trust her and she’d worked hard to prove it by saying nothing, not even to Dori, about her mother’s secret.
“What?” Sela asked, hoping the favor was to stand up when the priest asked if anyone was opposed to this union.
“Well-“ mom ’s eyes fell as she dug around in her oyster-colored purse. “Dannie asked if- Well she thought that since we’re in-“
Out of her purse, she pulled a pair of white gloves with tiny pearl buttons on the back.
“Dannie asked if you’d wear these,” mom said, her voice quivering as she avoided looking Sela in the eye. “Just during the ceremony. To cover up your uh, your-”
Sela’s face stiffened as if she’d just been slapped by those very same gloves.
“Tattoo,” Sela finished for her mom, holding up her left ring finger that bore the words, “Piss Off” to any future engagement or wedding rings.
Mom nodded, her shoulders rolling forward. “Sela, please, you know how much I hate to ask you this but-“
In all of its horrific clarity, Sela saw life with Dannie flash before her eyes … having to sit at the kid’s table on Thanksgiving, finding out she wasn’t invited to Christmas dinner or being told not to get too close to the baby.
Sela felt everything inside her go silent as a breeze sent a shiver through the papery petals of the bougainvillea.
This was the day mom had been dreaming of for her daughters. Given their track records, she would only get this one perfect wedding from her son.
Sela would do this for her mom and only her mom.
“It’s okay,” Sela said, taking the gloves. “Even though they don’t go with my dress, I’ll wear them for you.”
Names I Call My Sister was published by Harper Collins. You can get your cop yat:
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Lost in the Light
No one visits the dead in the rain. Parking would be easy to find at La Vista Memorial Park.
Dori turned up the steep hill and the wipers scraped against the windshield. Shafts of pearlescent light punched through the clouds. Grammy Cena was right. They just might get a break from the rain.
“Now don’t get out until I come around with the umbrella,” Dori said while Grammy checked her lipstick in the visor mirror.
“Who are you to tell me what to do?”
“It’s still drizzling outside.”
“So? I ain’t no wicked witch. I ain’t gonna melt.”
Pulling into a parking spot, Dori repressed a sigh so not to start an argument. As she pushed open the door and twisted around to step out, white hot pain exploded at her left side. While Grammy primped and fussed in the mirror, Dori held her breath. She slowly stood up. By the time she reached Grammy’s side of the car, sweat rolled down her back.
Shielding them from the light mist with the umbrella, Dori offered Grammy her arm.
“Wait, this is your bad side,” Grammy said.
“Give me your other arm.”
“Just take my arm.”
“I will when you turn your ass around.”
This time Dori didn’t hold back an exasperated sigh. She switched the umbrella to her left hand and did what she was told.
Grammy took her arm and eased out of the car. “You okay with this?”
“Yeah. I owe Grampy a thank you.”
Dori steered Grammy over the uneven pavement towards the mausoleum. Her eyes squinted against the sun reflecting off the puddles. Cars whooshed up and down the 805 freeway and the scent of the eucalyptus trees sharpened the cold wind. La Vista Memorial Park stood at the top of a hill. On clear days, far beyond Sweetwater Road and the wetlands, she could’ve seen a ribbon of ocean.
“Don’t let the flowers get wet,” Grammy said, leaning on Dori as they took the steps down.
“Hold the umbrella straight. I got my hair done.”
Dori cracked a grin, welcoming Grammy’s bossiness as a distraction from her stiff side. “Sorry.”
She glanced at Grammy’s freshly colored and coiffed up-do. Rhinestone earrings glittered at her ears, ropes of pearls hung over her reinforced bosom and her mango-colored pant suit could’ve beaconed ships safely into harbor. Grammy had gone all out for her weekly visit with Grampy.
The clouds swallowed up the sun again by the time they arrived at Grampy’s crypt. Stopping in front of him, Grammy let out a long sigh. Her hand reached out, shivering in the cold. She hesitated just before she caressed his name, Joaquin Gregorio Orihuela, 1929-1985.
“After visiting you on a day like this, you better be waiting for me when I die, mi amor,” Grammy said.
Dori put her hand next to Grammy’s, her fingers bumping over the letters of his name. “Hi Grampy,” she said. “Thanks for watching my back.”
She’d had more years without her grampy than with him. But right now, when she was supposed to be a strong, capable woman, all Dori wanted was to press her cheek against his chest and hear him tell her everything would be okay. Dori’s throat tightened and she pulled her hand away, stuffing it in her pocket.
Grammy shifted her weight off Dori’s arm, taking away her warmth. “Mija, get some water for the flowers. I want some alone time with your Grampy.”
“You want the umbrella?”
“I don’t need it.”
Dori checked the sky for rain before she left them together. She carried the metal vase to the sink located right outside the cemetery’s office. Miniature American flags flapped against the white marble.
Ever since Dori had been put on leave pending an investigation, this was her fourth time out of Grammy’s house. She’d met with her therapist twice, taken Grammy to the grocery store and now they were here. She felt rickety on her own two feet but tonight she was determined to sleep in her own house and get on with her life. She tried not to think about what she’d do when Grammy would be laid to rest beside Grampy. The vase clanged against the sink and her bones nearly jumped through her skin.
Time lurked just around the corner and then Dori would really have no one and her dependency scared her. Mom was caught up in her new boyfriend. Sela was now living in New York but kept in touch through phone calls and texts. Their brother, Robbie, sent two emails and flowers but he wasn’t interested in rejoining the family after his disastrous wedding. Dad was somewhere in Mexico with his new wife who, according to Aunt Delia, was five years younger than Dori but looked twice as old.
Grammy and her sergeant were the ones who had been sitting by her hospital bed when Dori emerged from the drugs and trauma of having been shot. After her supervisor left, Grammy had held her as Dori cried after telling her about the woman she’d shot and killed in front of her two kids.
Something caught in her throat and Dori choked. She braced her hands on the edge of the cold sink, trying to catch her breath. She’d been doing this a lot lately. She held on to the sink as if it would keep her from exploding into a million, irreplaceable pieces.
She stared down at her boots and wondered how she, Dori Orihuela could’ve ended up a mess like this. The department might clear her of any legal wrongdoing in taking the life of Kaylee Matthews, but she wasn’t so sure about God. Dori tried to remind herself that she didn’t believe in God anymore, but that didn’t make her feel any better.
Her hands eased their grip on the sink and Dori breathed in slow and deep. She focused on rinsing the vase and then refilling it with clean water. She walked back to Grammy and Grampy and the sun returned, spotlighting the old section of the cemetery. Massive granite gravestones rose crookedly out of the grass. The Victorian wrought iron fences that sequestered the city’s founding fathers were crumbling with rust.
“There you are,” Grammy said. “Grampy and I were getting worried.”
Dori stretched her lips into a grin and unclenched her fist. It was a front but she hated the worry in Grammy’s eyes. “I had to give it an extra rinse,” she said, sliding the vase into the holder.
“It’s crooked,” Grammy said. “The flowers will fall out.”
Dori made an adjustment.
“It’s still crooked.”
Dori nudged it just so.
“Psh! Let me do it.”
Grammy shouldered her aside and jimmied the vase. “I was telling him about that house you just bought,” she said. “He thinks you should stay with me for another week.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“It’s too drafty.”
“I’ve got all those blankets you gave me.”
“But it don’t got no heat. That little thing you bought might burn the place down.”
“If that happens, I’ll move back in with you.”
Grammy turned to Grampy. “Will you talk some sense into this child?”
“Fixing it up will be good for me,” Dori said even though she wondered if closing escrow on a 120 year-old eight-bedroom mansion had come at the worst possible time in her life.
Her throat closed up as she stared at Grampy’s name. This is why I need you again, she thought as if she could will him back to life and help straighten her out.
“You see what I gotta deal with?” Grammy said to Grampy, holding out her hand towards Dori. “You were the only one she ever listened to.”
Dori opened her mouth to argue that the last time she’d listened to Grammy, she’d tussled with a guy in the kitchen at the Hotel Del. But Grampy probably knew all that and she could see him shake his head and tell her in his deep whispery voice, “You know your Grammy.”
His name plate blurred. Dori made a choking sound and clamped her hand over her mouth.
“There, there, mija,” Grammy said, sliding her arm around Dori’s waist. “See you gotta let it out. Stop holding it in.”
They stood there quietly as the wind shoved against their backs. Grammy’s tender encouragements only worsened the pain. Dori clenched her jaw tight, forcing the sobs back to that dark place where they’d come from.
“I’m ready to go,” Dori said, pulling away to stand on her own.
Grammy sighed. She kissed her fingertips and then pressed them to his name plate. “See you soon, amor.” She then closed her eyes and bowed her head.
“Bye Grampy. I still keep my back to the wall like you told me to.”
They got to the car when Grammy asked, “You’ll call me when you get home.”
“Keep your cell with you at all times.”
“I don’t like you being there all alone. One of your cousins should stay with you.”
When Dori didn’t say anything, Grammy added, “You said it’s a big house.”
“Not that big.”
“Will you just cry or beat someone up or drink? You gotta stop bottling it in or it’s gonna eat you alive.”
Dori held the door open. “I don’t need to advertise my suffering. It’s time for me to move on and that’s what I’m doing.”
When she was firmly ensconced on the passenger seat, Grammy muttered, “Then at least get laid, mija.”
After making sure Grammy was safely in her house, Dori checked the time and figured her prescription was ready. Her palms began sweating as she turned into the shopping mall off Sweetwater Road, remembering the Old West theme it sported back when she rocked leg warmers and three-inch high bangs. She bought her Go-Go’s albums at the old record store and her Grammy’s romance novels from the Book Nook.
As she walked through the automatic doors of CVS, Dori replayed the conversation she’d had with her therapist the other day. The Lexapro didn’t mean she was defective. It was a tool to help her get her footing. Dori hadn’t filled the prescription until today and she wouldn’t change her mind or chicken out this time. If she wanted her job back then this was part of the process. It didn’t matter that-
“Well lookey whoo just walked in! Dora Orihuela!”
Dori stopped so suddenly she nearly fell forward. Cleve, her mother’s boyfriend smiled and waved from the other side of the pharmacy counter. She very nearly ran for it, but then she’d just visited Grampy, and he wouldn’t like her turning tail.
She sucked in some air and rolled her shoulders back. “Hey Cleve. How’s it going?”
“Not bad. They cut my hours so it’s a little tight. What can I do you for?”
She’d been trained to shoot to kill. She’d wrestled drunks in the gutter and had been called names that would shrivel a lesser man’s balls, but Dori couldn’t summon up one teensy lie to get herself out of this situation.
“I’m here to pick up a prescription,” she managed.
“Here lemme look you up,” he said. She watched him flip through the plastic bags hanging along the back wall.
“Or-hee-well-ah,” he said, mangling her last name on the ticket. “I just called you Dora didn’t I? Sorry ‘bout that.” He tore open the bag to scan the paperwork and then paused to wink at her. “My mind ain’t what it used to be. A few more years and you’ll know what I-”
When Cleve read the prescription, his grin flattened. Dori felt the ping in her gut. He looked her in the eye, all humor gone. “It’s not my place, but is everything all right?”
He knew she’d been shot. He’d brought her hysterical mother to the hospital. How the hell could everything be all right? Dori slapped her credit card on the counter. “How much do I owe?”
“Oh, right I-” The bottle fell out of the bag and rolled off the counter. Cleve dived down to get it.
“You need help, Cleve?” one of the pharmacists asked.
Dori wanted to pull her head into her coat and never come out again as the older blonde snapping gum walked over. Her badge said Berta.
“No thanks, I got it,” Cleve said, slipping it back into the bag. It took him four agonizing tries before the scanner read the bar code.
It was bad enough that her therapist had put her on anti-depressants. But within the hour, he’d tell her mother who then would call up her aunts and then they’d tell all of her cousins. They’d crow that Miss High and Mighty couldn’t handle her problems.
Not that Dori planned to take the pills. They were like insurance in case yoga, exercise and the guided meditation she downloaded onto her phone didn’t work. Still, she should’ve done what she used to do in high school when she’d fill her birth control pills at the pharmacy on Coronado Island where none of her family or their friends would find out. But she’d forgotten Cleve worked here. She needed to think more clearly from here on out.
He mumbled the total and then asked if Dori had a CVS card. Dori slid it across the counter that suddenly turned blurry.
“Here you go,” he said. The bag appeared in her line of sight. Her hand shot out for the grab but he kept his hold on it.
“Wait, I have to ask you to hang on for a consultation,” he said. “This is a, a you know – one of those things and-”
Shame or no shame, Dori leveled that cold Orihuela stare that everyone said she’d inherited from Grampy. “I’m fine.”
He flinched but held her gaze. “I can’t let you go without a consultation first.”
She could make a scene and then he’d really think she needed drugs. She pulled her hand away and stuffed it in her pocket. “Okay. Fine. Thanks.”
He nodded as if he appreciated what she was going through. She didn’t want his damn pity. She just wanted her bag so she could get the hell out of there.
“If you need anything, you know you can-”
“Sure thanks.” Dori moved out of the way for the next person in line behind her.
Dori slowed to a stop at East 24th Street and she tried to shake off the guilt that she’d blown Cleve off. At the hospital, when he’d walked her crying mother out into the hallway, she had heard him asking her mom to calm down, to be strong for her daughter. Then again, like Grampy used to say, sometimes you had to front so no one would mess with you. Maybe, just maybe, Cleve would keep the prescription to himself.
From her experience, Dori doubted it. She knew she couldn’t trust anyone, not even herself.
With the rain pattering on the roof of her car, she pulled up the semi-circular drive of the house the county of San Diego declared was legally and financially hers. Her Rav-4 looked ridiculous in front of the three-story, 19th century mansion that stood tall and proud even though one earthquake could send it into a smoking ruin.
The police tape Dori had draped across the sagging front porch fluttered in the wind. But she would fix it. Together, piece by piece, both she and the house would be put to rights. Staring at it through her fogged up window, she remembered the very first moment she saw this house and thought, this will be mine.
The memory was so clear that for a moment she was nine years old again, sitting in the backseat of her dad’s Scout, imagining what went on through the murky, mysterious windows. There were three other 19th Century mansions in this neighborhood that had been beautifully restored. But this one was special. She’d came back to it through the years, even when she visited from Denver. Now it was hers.
Sighing, Dori reached across the seat for her CVS bag. Goosebumps sprang up her arms. She tensed; the back of her neck tingling with the awareness that she was being watched. Locked inside her car, she scanned the back seat and the yard.
No one lurked behind the dead boxwoods. The grass had dried up, and not even one weed sprung up out of the dry earth. The plastic bag crinkled as she closed her fist around it. The house wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods but she refused to think about Grammy’s worrying.
The weeks she’d first lived in the house, before the shooting, Dori never felt weird or scared. But it was good to be aware, she told herself as she pushed the door open and paused, sniffing chimney smoke from the neighbor’s house. It was quiet up here, the traffic on Sweetwater a soft hush that rode on the winds sweeping clouds across the sky. She shut the door and the alarm beeped. The bay windows in the front parlor reflected Dori as she walked up to the house.
Idly wondering what to pick from the meals Grammy had prepared for her, Dori plugged her key into the lock. Her heart gave a painful jolt when she looked up into the face of a man. He stared at her from the other side of the wavy glass window of the Dutch door.
His dark eyes narrowed. In one motion, Dori dropped her bag, stepped back and reached for her weapon. But she only felt the bandage under her shirt where her Smith and Wesson should’ve been. She swayed in momentary confusion and then remembered she’d locked it away. When she looked back up into the window, he was gone.
Dori stood there with her pulse kicking against her neck. He couldn’t duck faster than the blink of an eye, nor was the window shade moving in the wake of a sudden movement. It hadn’t been that long since she’d been with a man that she’d start making one up as Grammy had repeatedly warned. Warning pricked at her nerves. She pulled up alongside the edge of the door and peeked into her dark kitchen. She strained her ears, listening for movement in the house. Against her better judgment, she reached over and turned the key.
She pushed the door open and the smell of cologne stopped her short of walking inside. Dori instinctively rocked her weight onto the balls of her feet, her muscles tensing for a fight. Night crept across the yard behind her.
As a cop, she’d been in much scarier situations than this. But back then, Dori had a gun at her hip and a radio for back-up. Unlike real bad guys, figments of her imagination couldn’t send her to the hospital. Dori told herself to go out to her car and call the cavalry.
Instead, Dori propped the door open with an old brick. This was her house damn it and it might feel good to kick some ass.
Dori made her way through the gloomy kitchen and flipped on the light switch. The fluorescents flickered to life and their hum filled the silence. She crossed the kitchen and then poked her head through the door leading into the butler’s pantry. The air held still, as if the house held its breath.
She crept across the floor, scanned the dining room and then reached in to turn on the dining room chandelier, which thankfully had survived the architectural rape and pillage of the 1970s. His shadow moved across the wall in the hallway. Fear shot up her spine.
“I’m armed,” she called out, backing into the kitchen for a knife. Her Mossberg was upstairs in the safe. Then she remembered the knives were still packed in a box. She had a spork from her and Grammy’s KFC lunch earlier today.
“Walk out the front door and you won’t get hurt,” she ordered, clutching the spork in her hand as she tiptoed back to the dining room. Her voice echoed.
She pressed the light button and the hall lights switched on. “Go out the front door.”
The hall was clear. With her back pressed to the wall, Dori held her breath as she waited for an answer or a creak of a floorboard that would give away his position. She should go for the Mossberg. But she peeked into the front parlor, the room that had suffered the most damage in the house. Something slammed against the front door and the lights snapped off.
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Girl in the Mist
After driving under the redwood shadows, the crescent-shaped beach seemed to burst before them in shocking white and heavenly blue. In that moment, Dori forgot to be suspicious of Gavin poking into her personal stuff to plan their first romantic trip. She was mesmerized by the ocean that sparkled as if diamonds had fallen from the sky.
“Is this is my surprise?” she asked.
“Part of it,” Gavin said, leaning over the steering wheel to get a better look at Carmel River Beach. “Wow. It’s usually fogged in.”
She rubbed her goosepimply arms to warm them up, welcoming the heat of the late afternoon sun. A month ago, Gavin told her he had set up a surprise just for the two of them.
Dori’s first instinct was to demand how he knew her work schedule when she hadn’t told him. But he had been so full of glee and mischief that she stretched her lips into a grin and asked if she should pack for warm or cold. He replied both and then during these past weeks left her clues throughout the house – a pine cone, beach sand in an antique glass bottle and this morning a vintage tea cup hand painted with a fairytale cottage.
“It’s been killing you hasn’t it?” he asked, cutting into her thoughts. “What?” she asked, stalling.
Laughter made his lips tremble. “Don’t what me.” In such a short time, he knew her too well. “You’ve been dying to know how I knew you’d have this week off.”
“It crossed my mind.”
“Okay I’ll tell you. You left your work calendar on the kitchen table.” “When?”
“A couple of months ago. You didn’t think I’d poke around your stuff did you?”
Yes, she had but opted to keep it to herself. In her experience, men didn’t react well when challenged. One wrong word and they’d be yelling and then all the jugging he’d done to make sure his daughter was taken care of and his work calendar rearranged would be ruined.
“Come on admit it,” he said, sneaking his hand over to grab hers which she held balled tight in her lap.
Dori took a deep breath and then admitted, “Okay I did. But I didn’t make a big deal of it because it’s not like I have anything to hide.”
He squeezed her hands. “I know my limitations. I just wanted this to be special.”
He then let go of her hands to hold onto the wheel. Dori uncurled her fingers. She rolled down her window, breathing in the cold air tinged with ocean, pine and cypress.
The road took them by the 18th Century Carmel Mission and whimsical cottages with thatched roofs, stone chimneys and diamond-paned windows tucked into the forest. Eventually they turned and headed down Ocean Avenue that cut through the center of the small downtown. Couples and families, almost all with dogs, strolled in and out of the boutiques and cafes. After seven hours in the car, she wanted to walk up and down these streets, with Gavin’s hand in hers.
Gavin pointed out his favorite restaurants and the bookstore he wanted to show her. Her eyebrows lifted when he pulled into the porte-cochere at the Del Mar, a Mediterranean resort built in the 1910’s. It was a few streets away from the shops and restaurants. The ocean’s roar could be heard through the trees.
A bellhop took them out of the lobby and across the street to a cottage hidden by overgrown hedges. A crooked river rock chimney reached up to the sky and green moss decorated the
shingled roof. Adirondack chairs with colorful pillows were grouped around a brick fire pit. A path meandered alongside the cottage to a second, smaller one in the back.
The bellhop opened the Dutch door. “Go on, check it out,” Gavin said.
Dori walked inside while he tipped the bell hop and sent him away. Burning logs snapped in the fireplace and a bottle of champagne waited in an ice bucket. A bouquet of her favorite flowers, sweet peas that were so dark they were almost black, rested on the giant bed.
Her chest went hot and tingly as she stood there taking it all in. He did this for her. The long drive. The lucky break finding her schedule and juggling his work crew and his daughter. He’d worked late last night. But he brought her here. No man had ever done something like this for her before, because, well frankly she never let one get past her defenses. When she hadn’t been paying attention, Gavin saw the romantic heart she kept hidden, and had known just what would make her eyes fill up with tears.
The door shut. She turned and saw that knowing grin of his stretched proud and unrepentant. “Oh shut up,” she said, looking away when her voice cracked under the strain of not crying in
front of him.
He got to work on the champagne while she stopped being such a girl. It only took 36 years for it to happen, but with one letter from him, Dori tripped and fell deeply, truly, completely in love.
He had offered to buy her house and when she told him she was keeping it, he just smiled like he’d known she would do that. They spent every other weekend together unless Dori was on duty, or he had his six year-old daughter, Bella, whom she still hadn’t met. Gavin respected her job and his laid back, creative mind was the antidote to long days on the job. He even survived a cop barbeque without getting intimidated by her male colleagues who initially froze him out. He started talking with her sergeant’s wife and, before Dori knew it, Gavin was like an old friend of the family. Now when her colleagues invited her to barbeques, they always asked if Gavin was coming too.
As happy as she’d been these three months, she also lived in terror. There were nights she’d jolt awake that it had all been a dream like Bobby Ewing’s death on Dallas. She always screwed up. But as Meg told her, maybe she wouldn’t this time. She cleared her throat and joined him by the fire.
When Gavin handed her the flute, glittering with golden bubbles, she trusted herself to talk. “Thank you,” she said, sinking into the impossibly comfortable sofa.
“I did good, didn’t I?” He clinked his glass against hers then nudged her over so he could sit with his arm around her shoulders.
After a few sips of champagne, she let her head rest on his shoulder. “This is all-” she choked up again.
“We have an hour and a half before sunset,” he said easily as if her tears were safe with him. The fire warmed her face. She could fall asleep to the sound of his heart beat.
“You know, I’m worried about something,” he said, putting his flute on the table. “What?”
He took her drink and set it next to his. He then looked down at her lap. “Your jeans look too tight.”
The warm fuzzy bubble in which she had been floating popped. “What?”
“Mmm hmm.” Just when she was about to get good and offended his fingers traced the inseam up her thigh. His hand cupped over her, fingertips pressing ever so slightly to make her squirm for more.
“I don’t want you to be uncomfortable,” he said quietly, just before he sucked her ear lobe into his hot mouth.
With a hiss of surprise, she arched up from the sofa, loving the feeling of being teased by those strong, dark fingers. He then firmly took her chin and turned her face to him. His eyes met hers
and then he kissed her. Holding her in place, his tongue invaded her mouth, mimicking what he’d do once he got undressed. She grabbed onto him and he made a dark sound that sent a vibration from her mouth straight to where his hand played her.
With Gavin rhythmically stroking her, she lifted her hips in a silent plea for more. He smiled against her mouth before catching her bottom lip between his teeth. Her zipper hissed down.
“Lift your hips,” he said.
She did and for a fleeting moment, realized the curtains were wide open. Gavin yanked her jeans and panties down in one pull and she forgot all about the windows.
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Lost in Whispers
Coming March 2017
Dori hoped the neighbors hit the deck when SWAT kicked in the door. They had the old house surrounded; units blocked each end of the street.
But in this East San Diego neighborhood, cops with guns drawn wasn’t an irregular occurrence.
Her phone buzzed in the case attached to her belt.
“You gonna get that?” Elliot asked, his gaze fixed on the team advancing to the front door.
The phone went quiet. Grammy or most likely, Gavin would have to wait this one out.
Dori kept her gaze forward, heart jolting when they busted the door open and swept in like angry hornets. “They’re in,” she said.
“Hey,” Elliot called behind her, reminding her to stay behind cover until SWAT gave the signal.
But the chase thrilled under her skin. They finally got these bastards. Months of investigation, of coming so close on their heels that she’d smelled their cheap cologne at the crime scene, were over.
Shouting and shattering glass came from the old, three-story house. It appeared so exhausted that it sagged noticeably on the left side. Dori and Elliot remained behind their unmarked car. She kept her hand on the butt of her weapon, poised to go into action if a suspect jumped out of a window or a back door.
Sweat collected under her fitted vest. She leaned forward, all her weight on the balls of her feet, ready to look those guys in the eye so they’d know who stopped them. She couldn’t wait to count the remaining stash of stolen cash and weapons and personally make sure they lost every dirty dollar they made during their seven-month robbery spree.
Clouds choked up the sky, casting a dark gray over the landscape. There wouldn’t be rain in October. Just muggy heat until after Halloween.
“Okay, all clear,” the SWAT officer said over the radio.
Dori bounded across the street, leaving Elliot and her robbery team behind.
Broken glass crunched under her boots. She didn’t fight the grin stretching her lips. She hadn’t been this excited since she was a kid on Christmas Eve. She stepped up onto the curb and a murder of crows burst from the trees. Their black moving cloud jolted her to standstill as uniforms converged on the house.
She hadn’t seen them. But she knew what they were trying to tell her. The wet, familiar cold seeped through her jacket and vest and crawled up her bare hands to wrap around her chest.
Dori started again for the house like she was walking on ice. Something more than robbery suspects and a gold mine of evidence waited for her behind the boarded-up windows and broken doorway. She sucked in her breath as if she were about o dive under water. Her best friend, Meg had dragged her to a weekend meditation retreat where she learned the nifty trick of creating a Glenda-the-Good-Witch bubble that kept them away.
She kicked up her stride, just a few feet away from the porch, when SWAT called for the paramedics.
“Suspect tried to fly out the second story window,” came over the radio. “Right leg is turned the wrong way.”
Snickering broke out around her and she turned to her team.
“Who wants to ride in ambulance?” she asked.
Elliot sidled up to stand at her side. “Well?”
Detectives Irene Ravera and Eli Ramirez looked at one another, neither wanting to miss any of the action. She was just about to pick someone when Ramirez stepped forward. “I’ll go,” he volunteered darkly.
Dori nodded and then turned on her heel to hustle up the steps. She shivered from the cold that thickened the closer she got to the door. Every time she saw crows, dead people appeared out of bathrooms and butler pantries.
This was just another house with a ghost. She knew how to deal with it now.
The moment she crossed the threshold, Dori took in the layout. She stood in a receiving hall, not that much different than her Edwardian house from 1888. This was built a decade or two after her place. Gaping doorways opened to a front parlor and a dining room; straight ahead the hallway led to the more private rooms on the first floor.
A staircase hugged the wall, turning at a large landing to the second and third levels. Above, the coffered ceiling thudded with cops poking around.
Dori cleared her throat, parting her lips to breathe through her mouth. Elliot cursed under his breath about pig sties as he stepped over the outstretched legs of the five suspects sitting on the floor with their hands cuffed. One was still wet and naked from his shower.
Two SWAT officers with rifles were on babysitting duty.
“For all the money they made, they’re not living too large,” Elliot joked. “I should’ve brought a surgical mask to breathe in this hole.”
“But then we’d miss seeing your pretty face,” Dori said.
The SWAT guys cracked grins.
Dori checked out the suspects and picked the bathing beauty who looked the most coherent.
She crouched down at eye level with him. “What’s your name?”
He mumbled something anatomically impossible.
“Your friends here got you in a lot of trouble,” she said, hoping to shake them up. “But you know, if you work with me, I might help you out.”
His head wobbled on his neck like a newborn. She imagined she appeared to him with three heads from the bleariness in his eyes. It wasn’t faked. From the bent spoons and rubber cords piled on a table in the next room, he was well and truly blitzed.
She straightened up. “They’re not much use yet. Take them into custody.”
“Why not keep ‘em here a little longer, let them see us take this place apart?” Elliot suggested.
Dori wasn’t going to take chances that even a public defender on his first day could kick a bent in their case. “You want to hang out with a naked junkie? Go ahead.”
One of the SWAT guys actually snickered. Elliot looked to Irene who answered with a sassy eyebrow lift.
“Fine,” Elliot muttered. “Get these fine citizens out of here.”
“Where is Sgt Rainey?” Dori asked one of the SWAT.
Someone tapped her shoulder. She turned and there was Sgt Rainey looking like a character out of Halo with his riot shield perched atop his head. His handsome face broke into a smile, his blue eyes looking deep into hers.
“What do you think?” he asked huskily, as if they on a date.
She steeled herself for what was becoming an increasingly uncomfortable rapport with SWAT’s most senior officer. Dori had dealt with this before and she’d probably do so again.
“You caught everyone at home,” she said.
He edged closer as if they were the only people in the room. “They left us some nice souvies in the back.” He tilted his head for her to follow him into the dining room. “It’s the cleanest part of the place and trust me, that’s saying something.”
They’d set up a portable table with a layout of the house stretched out. Sgt. Rainey had been marking up the layout of the rooms as his team reported back on the radio.
“Most of the cache is in the back bedroom but there’s stuff everywhere,” he said when they gathered around.
He noticed she let Elliot stand between them. Irene kept close in an unspoken show of support.
“They used some machinery in the garage outback to place the original serial numbers with new ones,” Rainey explained. “We found a few in progress, which I thought you’d like.”
“We’ll be here for weeks,” Elliot muttered.
Dori didn’t like that kind of whining, especially from a senior detective. Although, tomorrow she was scheduled to give a talk to Bella’s first grade class about being a police officer. They’d never clean this place out before then.
She pushed that thought away and would deal with it later. Rainey waited for Dori to look up at him before continuing. He pointed to where they’d kept the cash, which his team was in the process of bagging now. They’d collected cell phones, some of which were blinking with unread text messages and voicemails.
“Let’s glove up and collect our evidence,” Dori said. “I’ll take the weapons room with-“
“I started working it,” Rainey rushed in. “I don’t mind sticking with it.”
Of course, she thought with a mental eye roll. SWAT never stuck around once they served their purpose. Rainey wasn’t getting the hint.
“The nerd squad should be here soon,” Irene said. “I’ll call for their ETA and join you on weapons.”
“I’ll go round back,” Elliot said starting for the front door. “I don’t think I can breathe in this place.”
Sgt. Rainey waited till he left. “They broke the toilet and were using the side of the house as their bathroom,” he told Dori with a mischievous grin.
“Twenty bucks he’ll turn around,” Irene offered.
“Naw, he’ll make it through because he’ll know we’ll laugh at him,” Dori said.
“My bet is with you,” Rainey said to Dori, following them out of the dining room when one of his guys intercepted and led him away.
Thank God, Dori thought, wasting no time leaving him behind.
“Let’s get started while we wait for the nerds,” she said to Irene.
“You got it,” she replied.
Even though the hallway was wide, the air didn’t move. Broken linoleum revealed the floorboard in places, like a decayed body. Dori imagined with each breath her lungs were smeared with the same filth that darkened the walls and stained the ceilings.
They turned at the last room beyond the stairs. Her eyes went up, up and up as she took in the pile of shotguns, automatic rifles and ammo.
“How did those losers pull this off?” Irene asked.
“Thank God they’d been too high to fight back,” Dori said, ducking down to avoid the wires dangling from the ceiling as she walked inside.
“It’s the only way they can live with the smell.”
Dori squinted and held her breath as she dug latex gloves out of her pocket. Even stronger than the smell was the low buzz of the presence waiting in the corner. It knew Dori and coiled like a snake preparing to strike.
She ignored it. After pulling on her gloves, she offered one of her surgical masks to Irene. “Here. It might help.”
Irene’s eyes watered up, her hand clasped over her nose and mouth. She snatched it like a lifeline.
Maybe they could open the windows. Unlikely considering the wall of weaponry and God-knows-what they had to scale to even find the windows.
“You think there’s something dead in there?” Irene asked, her voice muffled by the mask.
Dori kept a straight face as the presence edged closer. “Rats most likely.”
She turned directly to the presence, not seeing it but knowing it was there. She touched the raw black tourmaline that Gavin had given to her. Threaded through a silver chain, it lay next to a silver heart pendant.
The presence recoiled.
Dori went into professional mode, assessing the loaded AK magazines heaped on a hospital bed. Dori recognized the AR15s from the security camera footage they had viewed.
Irene worked the other side of the room.
Dori had cleared the hospital bed. All the weapons had had their serial numbers filed away. She was making out the last four numbers of one when she heard someone step into the room.
Expecting Rainey or Elliot, she gripped the barrel of the AK tighter.
Footsteps brushed against the matted carpet right behind her. It was whispering and from the sound it wasn’t Rainey or Elliot.
Dori closed her eyes and breathed in deep, trying not to choke on the fetid air that wrapped around her. She imagined she stood in a bubble of light and immediately saw Glenda the Good Witch waving her silver wand around in Munchkin Land.
A cold, wet breath brushed her cheek. She opened her eyes and turned to face it. The air rippled and the eyes were the first to appear.
Dori lowered her chin and focused her thoughts. No. Not now.
But it took form, gathering all the heat in the room as the outline took shape then the details: the shape of the head, the shoulders. Two white pinpoints of light stared at her as it whispered.
Dori had studied ghosts and taken workshops out of town to deal with her gift, as Meg called it. She knew they were using her energy to take form and communicate with her. If she blocked her energy and removed her attention, they wouldn’t have a chance to plug in and leech off her.
“Hey Irene,” Dori called, deliberately stepping away from it. But each step felt like she waded through mud.
“Yeah?” came Irene’s voice from the corner of the room. She had cleared a path through the pile.
Dori made it half way across the room when the young, pregnant woman appeared before her. She was small but in full command of herself. Her hands were clasped before her, shoulders back, brown hair parted in the center and pulled into a sensible bun at the nape of her neck. White eyes stared down a nose too large for her narrow face. She whispered at Dori without moving her mouth.
“Underneath you,” she said.
Dori forgot all about the cops moving around the house like busy ants. “What?” she asked.
She whispered something more but Dori couldn’t make it out.
The white eyes widened with alarm, set deep in the greyish face. “Something. Now. Now. Nownownownownownow…”
Her whispering sped up, the words not making any sense. Dori’s breath hitched in her throat and she squeezed her eyes shut as the sound filled her head. Her good-witch-bubble long gone, Dori fought the urge to clamp her hands to her ears.
“NOW,” the voice surged. The young woman moved so fast she slammed straight into Dori. Dori staggered back and the room tilted and blurred, losing all color as she fell.
But she didn’t hit the floor. It opened before her. Dori had somehow moved to the corner of the room where the young woman had waited for her. She saw herself standing in the center of the room as a square of the floor swung up and over, hitting the carpet with a thud. A bald, tattooed head popped up like a maniacal Jack-in the-Box.
Dori tried to call out a warning but her mouth wasn’t working. She saw the flash suppressor of his rifle pointing up at the ceiling.
Her nerves flashed fire. She was no longer standing the corner but in the center of the room. She shouted, “Gun!”
Without thinking, her weapon was in her hand aimed at his back. “Drop the gun, drop the gun,” she shouted over and over again.
He turned, bringing the rifle with him. They stared at one another, his eyes wild.
Her finger squeezed the trigger. “Drop the gun!”
His rifle hit the floor. “Okay okay okay,” he chanted, thrusting his hands in the air.
Irene stepped into Dori’s line of fire, her eyes huge over her mask. Dori stepped to her left, keeping her weapon on him. The house seemed to shake as officers descended on the room.
“Sit on the floor,” she ordered and he did, flinching when Irene came up behind him to take his hands behind his back.
Dori lowered her weapon to the floor as Irene and Rainey hauled him out of the hole and turned him onto his stomach.
She walked over to the rifle, even though the guy was in no condition to make a grab for it. Dori’s mouth tasted metallic as she reached down for the weapon that could’ve ended her life just moments ago. Blood raced up her legs as she stood, turned and saw the safety had been disengaged.
Someone touched her arm. “Are you okay?”
She stepped away from Rainey, flicking the safety. “Yeah,” she said. “Fine. I’m fine.”
“Where the hell did he come from?”
“The floor. I turned and he popped out.”
“Shit,” he hissed.
She removed the magazine. Pulling back the slide, she caught the bullet as it flew up in the air. She looked him in the eye. The SWAT guys who weren’t handling the suspect watched like a pack of wolves ready for their alpha male’s signal. They’d messed up bad on the house intel.
Weighing the bullet in her now shaking hand, Dori promised herself Rainey and his crew were going to feel some heat for a long time if she had anything to do with it.
“Good thing this didn’t have my name on it,” she said.
He stepped close enough to be her lover in front of everyone in the room. He wasn’t looking at her like he wanted to kiss her. Lover boy here looked at her in a way that promised he’d fight dirty to protect his reputation.
Dori’s stiff fingers curled around the bullet, the tip biting into the fleshy part of her palm. The problem for him was that he didn’t know who he was dealing with.
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This is a collective work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Names I Call My Sister “Till Death Do Us Part”
Copyright © 2007 Mary Castillo
All rights reserved.
Lost in the Light
Copyright © 2012 Mary Castillo
All rights reserved.
Girl in the Mist
Copyright © 2013 Mary Castillo
All rights reserved.
Lost in Whispers – Uncorrected Advance Reader Edition
Copyright © 2016 Mary Castillo
All rights reserved.
No part of this collection may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Reina Books, 1048 Irvine Avenue, PMB 477, Newport Beach, CA 92660.
A collection of first chapters from the chilling Dori O Paranormal Mystery Series by best selling mystery author Mary Castillo. Featuring selections from: “Till Death Do Us Part” Lost in the Light Girl in the Mist Lost in Whispers "Lost in the Light is the entertaining answer to the question, 'What would happen if Kinsey Milhone met "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir"?'" – Deanna Raybourn, author of Silent in the Grave and A Spear of Summer Grass "This book captivated me. The ending might have been my favorite. One of my favorite mystery reads of the year, and one to get your to-read list!" – Samantha March, author of The Green Ticket